Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cote d'Ivoire peace settlement?

It seems that the Ivory Coast is on the verge of negotiating a peace settlement with the rebel Forces Nouvelles. After five years of civil war, the country has been left ravaged. Thousands are displaced, and many more cannot find employment or the means to sustain their lives. The president of Burkina Faso and the AFrican Union have recently offered to mediate talks between the Ivorian president the the rebel forces. They hope to be able to resolve differences in order to better conditions in the ravaged state. Although peace talks sound easy, the road has been dotted with many obstacles. Pierre Schori, the UN special representative to the Ivory Coast cited specific UN obstacles to obtaining a peace agreement. Among these are the "old boys network" and the heirarchical structures which the UN relies on. I think that it is ironic because it is these exact obstacles that the UN is fighting to promote development all over Africa. Will the president and rebel forces be able to negotiate a peace agreement? Due to the conditions of the country and the already twice post-poned national elections, I think that the change of an agreement is slim. Lets hope to the contrary.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kenyans taught to be better lovers

Amid all the crazy hullabaloo going on in Africa, there is peace and serenity in certain people's hearts. In Kenya, Gertrude Mungai has created a workshop to make better lovers out of Kenyan women. With the Valentine's season come and gone she receives flowers and presents from happy husbands.
Surveys have shown that Kenyans have a special appetite for sex, yet they are not good or frequent lovers. A "good wife" goes well beyond being a good mother and a good cook, but women do not seem to know what to expect in a sexual relationship. This causes low esteem in men who then further their desires by having affairs. Ms Mungai believes her therapy forces men to be more helpful around the house and less likely to go around having affairs.
Her therapy consists of preparing women for sex, creating the act of sex into a "love-making ceremony". At first, she merely gave friendly advice to friends and family but her fame grew and she was soon paid to be heard. She now runs her business from the garage of her home, which she has arranged so as to give a serene, tranquil atmosphere to it.
Ms Mungai believes women should assert their "womanhood" despite the challenges of modern life. Though her clients are mostly middle class women from Nairobi, more women are commuting from neighboring towns and even the poorer rural areas (these latter women have free sessions) just to profit from her advice.
Now this may all seem well and good, but if small businesses like these prevent men (in a way) from "sleeping around... don't they also reduce the spread of HIV infections? Couldn't these types of micro-businesses be used to also teach women and men of safer methods of sexual relationships?
I believe this is quite a good idea and could be useful in the future for education and proliferation of safer sexual contact in certain societies; if men do not need to go to the "red-light district" to satisfy their desires, less HIV positive prostitutes can infect them, more health services can prosper due to the lesser infections of venereal diseases and maybe their will be less birth control laws needed in countries where birth levels are outstandingly high.

AFRICOM - New Africa Command

The U.S Defense Department is planning to create a new command headquarters in Africa by 2008. With this, "the Defense Department will be able to coordinate better its own activities in Africa as well as help coordinate the work of other U.S. government agencies, particularly the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development". President Bush claims that "Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.”

All this sounds great, but is the military route really the way to go in order to help Africa? I would like to hear your comments about this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From Too Many Deaths to Too Many Births

Rwanda, Africa’s most densely populated country, wants to impose a three -child limit to couples in an attempt to reduce poverty levels. Since the 1994 genocide, the population has been rising at 3% per year and Rwandan women average six child –births in their lifetime. This proposed law is highly unpopular because a large percentage of Rwandans are Catholic and the Catholic Church is against contraception and other family planning methods.
Personally, I feel that this law is a good idea. The hope is that this law does not need to be permanent and that it will curb the population percentage enough to reduce poverty and influence the use of contraception. Even the slightest increase in the population can drastically raise poverty levels. Those who oppose this law argue that the population in Rwanda will soon level off because many Rwandans felt the need to “fill the gap” left behind by the genocide and that this trend in the rise of the population will soon end.

A Bittersweet Valentine's Day

As Valentine's Day rolls around again this year, Americans are undoubtedly stocking up on their beloved boxes of assorted chocolates. From Whitman's to Russell Stover to Godiva, consumers are bombarded with a seemingly infinite supply of the sweet confection. However, very few people stop to wonder where their chocolate came from. What they might be shocked to learn is that the hazelnut truffle they are enjoying is actually the result of dangerous child labor. In the Ivory Coast especially, young children are working with machetes and pesticides to harvest the cocoa beans that the world's biggest cocoa producer is famous for. Most of these children are not getting an education because they spend all their time working. Luckily, organizations around the world are starting to take action to limit the harsh conditions of this child labor. For example, the Confectionery Manufacturers Association of Canada is pursuing an initiative to oversee safe procedures on the farms. In the United States, Senator Tom Harkin introduced legislation in 2002 to require labels on chocolate bars stating "free from child labor." Instead, the motion now requires a label on every bag of cocoa beans. However, problems with documentation are making this noble idea difficult to carry out. The fact that the Ivory Coast is in the middle of a stalemated civil war presents yet another challenge. I cannot help but be reminded of the controversy over "blood diamonds." The two things so famously associated with women and Valentine's Day (chocolate and diamond jewelry) are now both under attack for their connections with pain and bloodshed in Africa. The question becomes, is there anything the average American can and will do? Are we really willing to give up our chocolate as a protest against cruel labor? On Valentine's Day, as on every other day, my guess is absolutely not. So the children will continue to suffer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

China’s Interests in Africa will surely outpace its Values

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, China’s president, Hu Jintao, has pledged $5 billion in aid to Africa over the next three years, as well as promised to double aid to Africa by 2009. By the end of 2006, China had already invested nearly $8 billion. “Invested” is the key word here. China’s blooming economy doesn’t run on nothing. Africa is an obvious opportunity for China to extract precious oil resources left untapped by Africans themselves.
But there’s a potential problem here. Chinese investment may aid Africans, but if it does, it comes only as a side effect. China’s interests are in mineral and oil reserves, not ensuring the development of a forlorn continent. If sensible, economic motivations purporting to be of humanitarian ends sounds familiar, it should. It sounds a little like colonialism to me. How, exactly, does exporting oil to China aid Africa? It employs a few Africans for a bit. But raw export of any commodity leaves Africa out of the potential profit to be found from the application of further industry to that product.
And I’m not the only who thinks so. Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, warned fellow African leaders to be weary of a “colonial relationship.”
That does not mean, however, that no good can come from a robust trading relationship between the African continent and China. Both sides surely have much to gain. But with the ghosts of a colonial past lingering in the not-too-distant memories of many African leaders, it’s a wonder more people aren’t more upset about the potentially abusive relationship. Perhaps it is these ghosts that will allow Africa to keep focus on ITS goals, a weary eye on China, and the potential to use Chinese investment as a boon to development from slipping away.

Liberia: The New African Success Story?

After fourteen years of civil war that left devastating effects on both the environment and people of Liberia, the country seems to finally be on the path to development. It has only been a year since Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected as the first woman Liberian (and African!) president but already significant improvements are evident within the country. A meeting in Washington D.C. this week will bring together both President Johnson Sirleaf and members of the World Bank, IMF, UN and others to examine Liberia's progress and prospects for recovery and growth. In addition to finding solutions to the US$3.7 billion debt, this forum intends to secure international approval and support for the country’s reconstruction and development strategy, and explore new funding possibilities.
While Liberia's past has left the nation in deplorable conditions, President Johnson Sirleaf government has been successful in increasing exports, restoring clean water and electricity, and instituting economic reforms that have increased government revenues by fifty percent. Additionally, the economy grew at a rate of eight percent with expectations for it to continue at this rate. The Liberian Manager for the World Bank, Luigi Giovine, believes that this evidence proves that Liberia is committed to change and is worthy of support. It appears that since President Johnson Sirleaf has been at the forefront of the Liberian government the nation has seen nothing but progress, deeming it worthy of international support. Is Liberia on its way to becoming the new African success story? Is one year of progress enough to ensure that Liberia is indeed on the right path?

"Protect the People"

A new curfew and orders to avoid or prevent a civil war has been given in Guinea. Military patrols line the streets and protestors, starting on Saturday, are being killed by the military. Why? Public order has turned into disorder when protestors began demonstrating against President Lansana Conte and his decision to enforce martial law. Even though President Conte has won the past three elections, many citizens still blame him for the country's devastating conditions, including its economy. People want a change in Guinea and that change is a new leader. Yet is a new leader the answer? Does throwing out the old and bringing in the new produce a definite improvement? Or will violence persist among the citizens of Guinea? And, how much control should the military have in times of crisis? How many deaths of protesting civilians can be considered humane?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Food Shortage crippling Burundi

A few weeks ago, rainstorms swept through the northern provinces of Burundi. These rainstorms reduced the acres of maize, sweet potatoes and rice to murky swamps, plunging tens of thousands into serious food shortages. This is only aggravated by Burundi's transitional period from 13 years of civil war. Ever since the end of the civil war, Burundi has relied on the World Food Programme to feed it's people. The government has just put in a plea for $12million more because of it's current state of emergency. However, it is hard to convince companies to give aid when the country itself seemingly is so lush and fruitful. It is reported that 80% of this years food crops have been ruined by the rains. Stephanie Savariaud of the WFP, however, believes that aid MUST be given to Burundi. She says that "you can't get economic growth on an empty stomach or sustain peace on an empty stomach". This connects to exactly what we were discussing last week. The next question is, how much aid will it take for a country to get back on its feet?